Hack Your MLIS Program: Visual Resources Librarianship

Hi Arlisnappers! After a yearlong absence, I am back on the blog as a feature post writer and excited to be a part of the ArLiSNAP team once again. I recently graduated with my MLIS and I currently work as the Director of Visual Resources at the University of Georgia.

In April 2014, I shared my tips for hacking your MLIS program to focus on art librarianship. Now I’m back with a better-late-than-never follow-up on how I hacked my MLIS program to prepare for my career in visual resources librarianship. We have discussed how to plan your coursework so you are prepared to manage digital collections before, and this post will focus specifically on what you need to manage visual resources collections.

Visual Resources Center, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Image courtesy of Courtney Baron.

Visual Resources Center, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Image courtesy of Courtney Baron.

What is visual resources librarianship?

Visual resources librarianship is a bit different from art librarianship, though the two fields require similar skills and educational backgrounds. I have worked as a full-time visual resources professional for one year now, so I have a good idea of what the profession involves and what is required to do the job successfully. That being said, each position is unique depending on the needs of the institution. Visual resources professionals historically functioned as slide librarians, usually in art/art history departments or libraries. Now, we primarily manage digital image collections, though slide collections still exist at many institutions, and assist faculty and students with their image needs. We may also manage public visual resources spaces that range from digital scanning and projects labs to libraries with circulating materials.

Become involved in VRA

The Visual Resources Association (VRA) is smaller than ARLIS, but equally as welcoming. Hands down, this is the best way to get – and stay – connected to the field, especially if you are one of the few people in your program interested in art and visual resources librarianship. Not only do you have access to a large network of art and visual resources professionals, but you can also follow news, concerns, and trends on the VRA listserv. I encourage you to be active on the listserv as well since name recognition can help you in your job search later on! Seriously – my predecessor was very active, and I get asked about him all the time. If you have been involved with ARLIS but haven’t yet ventured into VRA, there is a joint conference next year in Seattle, WA, so it will be an opportune time to check out both organizations and annual conferences. There is also a similar group to ArLiSNAP called vreps – visual resources association emerging professionals and students – that you should join. The VRA Bulletin is the journal of the association and each issue contains a wealth of information about current issues and practices in the field.

Focus coursework and projects on visual resources topics

As I said in part one, the best way to ensure you are getting a similar education to a MLIS program that does offer an art librarianship track is to see which courses they require and which electives they offer. I also recommend looking at similar tracks, such as digital content/asset management or archives. I recommend courses on the following topics, since they relate to visual resources: humanities information services, digital libraries, descriptive cataloging and metadata, database design, digital humanities, and digital archives. Basically, looks for classes that focus on metadata, technologies, databases, and managing or curating digital archives, libraries, and other collections. These classes will give you an overview of the information you need and you can focus your projects and papers specifically on arts and humanities topics.

Independent study

In part one, I discussed an independent study on art and visual resources librarianship that I designed as an elective in my MLIS program. If you would like more information on that, I’m happy to share my syllabus and course projects in a later post.

This time, I’m focusing on what you can do independently outside of coursework to build some of the skills you need to work in visual resources.

Photography, Photoshop, and Lightroom 

Knowledge of photography, especially editing software, is very helpful for managing image collections. I still have a lot to learn about photography, but I have heard that ShootFlyShoot has fantastic photography classes. Why is this important? So you understand how the images you work with are produced, and you can produce images if required. Some visual resources positions require original photography of works of art, either from works in museum or galleries, or from faculty and student work. I do not produce original photography in my current position, but I do a lot of scanning, and knowledge of photographic editing techniques is essential. I use Adobe Photoshop, and recommend Photoshop Classroom in a Book to learn the basics of using Photoshop. The book has a disc with tutorials and sample images to practice editing. Adobe Lightroom is a simpler and easier way to edit images and is preferred over Photoshop by some visual resources professionals.

Metadata

Just like a library book would be lost without a catalog record, images would be lost without good metadata. I believe that metadata is perhaps the most important part of managing image collections. After all, what’s the point of having a collection if your content cannot be easily found? Just as there are cataloging standards and formats for cataloging books, archival materials, etc., these also exist for visual resources collections. Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) is a content standard for visual resources collections (comparable to RDA) and VRA Core is a metadata schema used to describe images (comparable to MARC). If you have access to Adobe Bridge, you can download the VRA Core panel and practice creating metadata for images. It’s also essential to be familiar with the Getty vocabularies, which are now available as Linked Open Data. The vocabularies will give you the structured terminology for art, architecture, and other materials and are essential tools for the proper cataloging of images.

Image resources

Working in visual resources doesn’t just mean managing image collections. There is a reference and instruction component. You must be able to help others find and locate images using subscription databases, institutional image collections, and free resources on the web. The most popular subscription database for images is Artstor Digital Library. If the institution where you attend school or work does not have a subscription, you can still check out the website or YouTube videos to learn more about how the database works and how to use it. There is a section with free guides, including subject-specific guides, and studying these is an excellent way to increase your knowledge of this resource.

Visual resources professionals manage institutional image collections or archives. These collections can include images from faculty and student image requests, images from digitized slides, images purchased from vendors, and images related to institutional history. In order to properly manage these image collections, you need to know how digital asset management systems work. A broad knowledge of DAMs is important, because there are many different systems out there. The most popular DAMs for visual resources include Artstor’s Shared Shelf, Luna Imaging, and Madison Digital Image Database (MDID). These can be high cost for some institutions, so in-house solutions are also popular.

You also need to know how to locate high-quality and accurate images on the web. Libguides are an excellent way to compile these resources, and many institutions have great libguides on locating images for you to browse and study. My personal philosophy behind libguides, or curating image resources in general, is this: quality over quantity. Your job isn’t to know all instances of where to find images of the Mona Lisa. Your job is to know where to find the best images of the Mona Lisa.

Copyright and fair use

You also need to know how the images you manage, or how images available in subscription databases or on the web, can be used. This is why copyright and fair use comes into play. For general information on copyright law, look at Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators: Creative Strategies and Practical Solutions. For copyright information related to the visual arts, your best resources are from the College Art Association. Copyright, Permissions, and Fair Use among Visual Artists and the Academic and Museum Visual Arts Communities was released in 2014 and and the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts was released earlier this year. Study these documents and know them well.

Get experience – if you can

Some institutions don’t have a visual resources collection, but those that do usually need help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a visual resources professional and ask if you can volunteer, intern, or even just visit the collection and learn more about what they do and what a typical day is like for them.

So this is what I recommend doing as a library science student if you are interested in visual resources. If other visual resources professionals are reading this, I’m curious to hear what you also recommend!


Job Posting: Digital Collections Content Coordinator, Dallas Museum of Art, Texas

The Dallas Museum of Art is currently searching for four Digital Collections Content Coordinators for a full-time, grant-funded, five year period. I’m including a link to the full job description and online application for the position: http://ch.tbe.taleo.net/CH07/ats/careers/requisition.jsp?org=DMA&cws=1&rid=254

We would be grateful if you would share this with colleagues or other potential candidates who you feel would make a great addition to the DMA interpretation team.

Job Description:

Working as a part of the Digital Collections Content Team under the leadership of the Interpretation Manager, the Digital Collections Content Coordinators are responsible for producing digital collections content that reflects the highest standards of quality and scholarship while remaining accessible to a broad public audience both online and in the galleries. The Digital Collections Content Coordinators will also review collections metadata records to improve their quality and consistency in accordance with best practices in the field for collection cataloguing. Using tools created by the DMA’s software and technology teams, the Digital Collections Content Coordinator will create, digitize, and aggregate digital content to support the interpretation and understanding of artworks from the Museum’s permanent collection and long-term loans.

Essential Functions:

● Digitize, aggregate, and author digital content in support of the permanent collections and long-term loans in order to ensure quality and consistency of collection content.

● Review of object metadata in the Museum’s Collection Management System (CMS) by checking facts, validating consistency, and verifying primary image selection.

● Collect data and information from verifiable sources related to DMA artworks.

● Take direction from the Interpretation Manager in order to achieve the critical aspects of an interpretive strategy that fulfills the needs of the DMA’s online collection.

● Work with DMA’s Collection Database Manager and Imaging Department to ensure that collections data and images are consistent, accurate, and complete whenever possible.

● Work closely with DMA Curators under the leadership of the Interpretation Manager to ensure that digital collections content reflects the highest standards of quality and scholarship.

● Participate in ongoing evaluations that integrate visitor research and evaluation into the design and development of digital interpretive content for the permanent collection.

● Collaborate with Editorial staff and follows house style in all written materials.

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:

● Master’s Degree in Art History or related field required

● Academic background or experience in one or more of the following: African art, Asian art, European art, American art, pre-Columbian art, contemporary art, or decorative arts and design

● Experience working in a museum setting in a curatorial, education, or digital media role desired

● Excellent writing and strong research skills

● Strong digital content skills and experience using web tools preferred

● Prior experience in meeting strict deadlines under limited supervision

● Excellent interpersonal and communication skills

● Proven ability to work productively within a team


From Records to Data: Seeing and Sharing Digital Cultural Heritage Collections Differently with Recollection

From Records to Data: Seeing and Sharing Digital Cultural Heritage Collections Differently with Recollection
Brooklyn Public Library

Trevor Owens, Digital Archivist with the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) at the Library of Congress, will give a lecture titled “From Records to Data: Seeing and Sharing Digital Cultural Heritage Collections Differently with Recollection” at Brooklyn Public Library’s Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Center for Contemporary Culture on Thursday, May 19th from 3-4:30pm.

Owens will introduce and demonstrate the utility of Recollection, a free open source platform for generating and customizing views (interactive maps, timelines, facets, tag clouds) that allow scholars, librarians and curators to explore digital collections in novel and intuitive ways. This demonstration will show how content stewards can ingest collections from spreadsheets, sets of MODS records, or RSS and Atom feeds and then generate a range of interactive visualizations, including charts and maps, as well as sophisticated faceted browser interfaces for users of their digital collections.

We especially invite students and professionals interested in cultural heritage, digital curation and preservation, information visualization and other similar fields to attend.

Brooklyn Public Library
Central Library
10 Grand Army Plaza
718-230-2762
www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org


California Digital Library Announces Release of XTF Version 3.0

Oakland, CA, April 5, 2011 – The California Digital Library (CDL) is pleased to announce the release of version 3.0 of XTF(http://xtf.cdlib.org/), an open source, highly flexible software application that supports the search, browse and display of heterogeneous digital content.  XTF provides efficient and practical methods for creating customized end-user interfaces for distinct digital content collections and is used by institutions worldwide.

Highlights from the 3.0 release include:

  • Scanned book display support in default UI
  • Stability improvements to index rotation support
  • Globalization and RSS support
  • Further Unicode improvements
  • Many bug fixes

See the full change log (http://xtf.cdlib.org/documentation/changelog/) for further details.

XTF is a combination of Java and XSLT 2.0 that indexes, queries, and displays digital objects and is based on open source software (e.g. Lucene and Saxon).  XTF can be downloaded from the XTF website (http://xtf.cdlib.org/download/) or from the XTF Project page on SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/projects/xtf/), where the source code can also be found.

The XTF website also provides a self-guided tutorial and a sample of the default installation (http://xtf.cdlib.org:8080/xtf/search), demonstrating the capabilities of the tool out-of-the-box. Both of these resources provide a quick view of the capabilities of XTF prior to download.

Offering a suite of customizable features that support diverse intellectual access to content, XTFinterfaces can be designed to support the distinct tools and presentations that are useful and meaningful to specific audiences.  In addition, XTF offers the following core features:

  • Easy to deploy: Drops directly in to a Java application server such as Tomcat or Resin; has been tested on Solaris, Mac, Linux, and Windows operating systems.
  • Easy to configure: Can create indexes on any XML element or attribute; entire presentation layer is customizable via XSLT.
  • Robust: Optimized to perform well on large documents (e.g., a single text that exceeds 10MB of encoded text); scales to perform well on collections of millions of documents; provides full Unicode support.
  • Extensible:
    • Works well with a variety of authentication systems (e.g., IP address lists, LDAP, Shibboleth).
    • Provides an interface for external data lookups to support thesaurus-based term expansion, recommender systems, etc.
    • Can power other digital library services (e.g., XTF contains an OAI-PMH data provider that allows others to harvest metadata, and an SRU interface that exposes searches to federated search engines).
    • Can be deployed as separate, modular pieces of a third-party system (e.g., the module that displays snippets of matching text).
  • Powerful for the end user:
    • Spell checking of queries
    • Faceted displays for browsing
    • Dynamically updated browse lists
    • Session-based bookbags

These basic features can be tuned and modified.  For instance, the same bookbag feature that allows users to store links to entire books, can also store links to citable elements of an object, such as a note or other reference.

Examples of XTF-based applications both within and outside of the CDL include: